India: “Encounter killings” are not justice for sexual violence and murder

The ICJ called on the Indian government to conduct an independent and impartial investigation into the apparently unlawful killings by Telangana Police of the four men accused of raping and killing of Dr. Priyanka Reddy on November 27, 2019.

The men had been in police custody for over a week at the time of the killings.

“The rape and killing of Dr. Reddy is a heinous crime, and sadly only the latest in a pattern of rampant sexual violence that plagues India. The perpetrators of such acts must be held accountable,” said Frederick Rawski, ICJ Asia-Pacific Director.  “However, the unlawful killing of suspects in custody helps no-one. It denies victims true justice, rewards unlawful behavior by the police, and generally undermines the rule of law.”

On November 27, Dr. Priyanka Reddy, a veterinarian, was returning home when she was gangraped. Her body was subsequently burned by the perpetrators. The next day, four suspects were arrested. According to the police, they remained in custody until Friday, 6 December, when all four were shot and killed after they allegedly attempted to take weapons from the police and tried to escape during a re-enactment at the crime scene. Details of the incident remain unclear, though it has the appearance of a custodial execution.

“The suspicious circumstances of these deaths in custody, and the history of the use of extrajudicial killings in India, demands a thorough, independent and impartial investigation,” said Rawski. “The nationwide alarm at the trend of sexual violence is completely warranted. However, celebrating the unlawful behavior of police will not ultimately protect women from sexual violence or address their lack of access to justice.”

Several Indian women’s rights activist groups have also condemned the killings. A statement by the All India Progressive Women’s Association’s statement pointed out that “This is not justice. This is a ploy to shut down our demand for accountability from the police, judiciary, governments, and justice and dignity for women.”  The National Human Rights Commission of India has also called for an investigation into the circumstances of the killing.

According to international standards including the International Convention of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which India is a party, States have a duty to investigate allegations of extrajudicial executions with due diligence and good faith, regardless of whether or not there is a formal complaint. The investigation of extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions must be thorough prompt, impartial and independent, towards establishing the crime committed and prosecuting those responsible for the crimes. This has been reiterated by the Supreme Court of India, which has condemned encounter killings, and set out guidelines for their investigation.

The ICJ urges the Indian Government to conduct a thorough and impartial investigation into the killings by the police, in line with the Supreme Court’s decisions, and India’s constitution and international obligations. The ICJ calls upon the courts to ensure that police officials who conduct unlawful killings are held accountable. It also calls upon the Government to take immediate steps to address the lack of an effective response from police personnel to allegations of rape and sexual violence, and to take effective lawful measures to prevent the unacceptable attacks upon victims of rape and other sexual violence seeking a remedy in the courts.


Frederick Rawski, ICJ Asia-Pacific Director, t: +66 64 478 1121; e: frederick.rawski(a)

Maitreyi Gupta, ICJ India Legal Adviser, t: +91 77 560 28369 e: maitreyi.gupta(a)

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